Every time with speak, we are engaging one of three types of conversation.  If we want to make progress, it is vitally important to be aware of how we are communicating and how that will affect the outcome of a discussion.

The human mind is built to quickly assess situations for survival, and that means it is very hard to shut down our inner critic.  That challenge is compounded by today’s busy world.  It feels almost endlessly urgent to determine whether the current discussion has any merit and if we can mentally (and perhaps physically) disengage.  Unfortunately, many “conversations” just become an exchange of judgments.

These are the three types of communication:

  • Telling. This is a one-way discourse.  One party is giving information to another.  For example, “I need that order by Thursday.”  Telling is an essential communication tool and can contribute to positive dialogue by helping both parties understand their needs, challenges, and goals.  But it is one-sided and serves to limit, rather than expand, possibilities.
  • Selling. Attempting to convince another party to adopt your point of view, selling is conversation with a pre-determined end in mind.  Because the focus is about convincing the other(s) to take a course of action, selling restricts and often prevents innovation.
  • Dialogue. Open conversation where each party uses the knowledge and insight from the other(s) to expand and improve their own ideas.  This is literally magic—people engaging in honest dialogue can create new ideas by incorporating and building off of others’ perspective, concepts, and experiences.

In other words, dialogue creates new information—more than just the sum of the parties’ previous knowledge—through the interaction and discussion of ideas.

Dialogue requires “yes, and” thinking that means letting go of the need to judge and criticize every shared thought and being willing to build on someone else’s idea instead of just trying to get approval for your own.  It works most effectively when a group is collaboratively working to solve a problem.

Psychologist Carl Rogers wrote in his book On Becoming a Person:

“I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand the other person.  The way in which I have worded this statement may seem strange to you.  Is it necessary to permit oneself to understand another?  I think it is.  Our first reaction to most of the statements (which we hear from other people) is an evaluation or judgment, rather than an understanding of it.  When someone expresses some feeling, attitude, or belief, our tendency is almost immediately to feel “that’s right,” or “that’s stupid,” “that’s abnormal,” “that’s unreasonable,” “that’s incorrect,” “that’s not nice.”  Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to the other person.”